Molding a lump of clay

Molding a lump of clay
I am a work in progress, molded by my Maker, refined by His fire, shaped with His love. Walk the journey with me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A little poem

Let not my heart be hardened
by stress or worries deep
Let not my soul be cold and dark
but rather Yours to keep
Let neither fear nor pride divert
me from the path You've laid
but rather peace should reign within
this masterpiece You made
Each day to walk in faith with You
above life's troubled way
Clinging tightly to Your hand
forever come what may
To hear Your heart's desire
to see You, greater still
To give you glory...all I ask
Let it be done...Your will.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Drill Sergeant wannabe

I think I would have made an excellent drill sergeant.

My poor husband and kids experience the home version of boot camp pretty much daily, especially now that we’re on a tight time schedule and still trying to get into a routine.

Aidan! Get your shoes on.

Noah! Brush your teeth.

Kezi! Pick up your pajamas.

Hurry up, kids. We leave in 3 and a half minutes!

John! Grab the keys, we have to go now.

Hup, two, three, four, Hup, two, three, four!


The only problem is, no matter how authoritatively I bark my commands, nobody responds with military precision and efficiency.

Aidan wanders to the coat rack and puts on his jumper instead of his shoes...well, at least he’s getting something on.

Noah totally ignores me in his quest to find the charger for his gameboy.

Kezi just looks at me and sucks her fingers.

And John picks up his book and disappears into the bathroom.


So I run around barking more orders, getting in people’s faces, grabbing shoulders and steering little ones to where I want them to be. I don’t go anywhere near John and the bathroom. Slowly by slowly the chores get done, the family members get organized, and we get out of the house.

Then the race is on to get the kids up over the hillside to nearby Fish Hoek in time for school. Here comes a school-run mom on a brand new course in a BIG truck...outta my way! I still don’t know the area really well, so I race up and down side streets until I find the right one. Ooops...took that corner a little too sharply and ran the back tire up on the curb...3 kids’ heads bounce off the roof of the truck. Oh well, no blood. Onward, soldiers!

There it freedom! Bay Primary School. Boot the kids out of the truck...”Come on, guys, out you get. Come on!” Drop ‘em off, quick wave, and I’m off. Yes!

Not that I don’t love ‘em...‘course I do. But my sanity has been severely stretched after 11 days in the car with them and not one minute of alone time. I have a lot of catching up to do!

Besides, their lack of response to my drill sergeant orders is wearisome, and I get tired of repeating myself, getting louder, issuing threats.

Maybe I need to get a whistle.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Days 6-7 Kampala to Cape Town 2011

Days 6 & 7 of Journey to Cape Town 2011

Greetings from Livingstone, Zambia! Well, we completed our first week on the road today. I can’t believe we’ve been driving for 7 days! So far the journey has been farther and slower than we expected, no surprise there. For those of you into numbers, we’ve driven 3,846 km (2,390 miles) through 4 countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia). From the time we left in the mornings until the time we arrived at our daily destinations, we’ve been ‘on the road’ for 70.5 hours (that includes stops for fuel, food and potty breaks). When I averaged the distance we travelled and the time it took us to cover that distance, we discovered we are crawling along at a mere 54.5 km/hr (33.5 mph). Painfully slow!

We’ve learned that we can’t figure out the distance, say 500 km, and guesstimate an arrival time, ie. “if we drive 100 km/hr we should get there in 5 hours, 6 with breaks.” No, that doesn’t work here at all. You never know how many villages you’ll go through, since the main highway passes through numerous villages and towns, and at every one you have to slow down to 80, 60 or 50. There are always speed bumps before and after every town, and often many on the main drag through town. There are also frequent police checks where they check our drivers’ licenses and vehicle documents to make sure everything is up to scratch. So far we’ve been stopped by traffic police 11 times.

But through it all...the long, slow journeys, the speed bumps and traffic police...God has faithfully protected us. Yesterday we had our first tire blow out. I was sitting in the middle with the boys, John was upfront with Kezi, and Yolam was driving. All the sudden I heard a whoosh!! and thump thump thump thump thump. The inner tube in the right rear tire blew and the tire went flat in seconds. Yolam did a great job keeping the truck on the road and gearing down to a stop. He managed to save both the tire and the rim, but the tube and the ‘gutter’ (?) were in pieces.

I ran down the road aways and set out our emergency hazard triangle and dragged a big tree branch into the road to divert traffic around us, and John and Yolam got to work changing the tire. Thankfully we were in a pretty deserted stretch of other vehicles or people on the road when the tire blew...and it was straight and flat, so it was a perfect location to get a flat. We managed to get the tire repaired at the next ‘biggish’ town at the ‘tire mending tree’...literally these guys were fixing flats under a scrawny tree on the dust-blown side of the road with no building at all...just a portable air compressor powered by a generator. They did a great job, but all the delays turned our 9-hr journey into a 13-hr journey. Oh yeah, we also lost time when we pulled into Barclays bank to get money from the ATM, and there was a Zambian woman with car problems in the parking lot, and Yolam came to her rescue and fixed her car within about 30 minutes. It’s great to have him with us and awesome that he can be a blessing to others, as well!

We slept at the YWAM base in Lusaka last night, and then headed out around 9 this morning for the 6-hr stretch to Livingstone. Today was uneventful with smooth, beautiful roads, hardly any traffic, very few speed bumps and only a few police stops. We arrived at Jolly Boys Backpackers around 3:30, and now John and the kids are enjoying the swimming pool while Yolam talks to some of the workers at the bar. Kezi is shrieking with joy having finally caught the knack of swimming without having to stop every time she needs to breathe. I would say today is the first day of her doing ‘real swimming’ on her own!!! Pretty cool place to learn that!

We are about 10 km from Victoria Falls on the Zambian side, so tomorrow morning we’re going to go and check them out. Then we’re hoping to drive to the Botswana border at Kazungulu, cross with the ferry, and begin our journey south through Botswana on the eastern border. We don’t have a place booked for tomorrow night, and aren’t even sure how far we’re going to get, so please pray for God’s guidance to a good place to sleep.

Tomorrow is also the presidential elections here in Zambia, so please pray for peaceful voting and no problems. We in the West often take this for granted, but here in Africa elections can be dangerous times. Most of the locals we’ve talked to don’t expect any problems, though.

The next few days are a bit unknown in terms of which cities we’re aiming for or where we’re hoping to sleep. Originally we thought the journey would take 9 days, but now it looks like it’s going to be 11. So we still have 4 more driving days to go. God has really been sustaining us, but I have to say...I’m feeling pretty shattered. Tonight is our second night of camping, and although it saves money, it’s tiresome to set up the tents, etc. Plus it takes ages to break ‘em all down and repack everything. Not sure how many more nights we’ll camp on the way.

There are many more observations and things to say, but I’ll stop for now. Thanks again for all your prayers, and we’ll do our best to keep you posted on the journey.

Lots of love and many blessings,

Vikki for the gang

Days 1-5 of Kampala to Cape Town 2011

Dear friends and family,

Greetings from Shiwa Ngandu, Zambia! We’ve been driving for 5 days now, and are at the halfway point on our journey to Cape Town. We left Tuesday Sept 13 at 5am from Kampala, and spent the 1st night in Nakuru, Kenya. That was a 12 hour day. On Wednesday we left just after 8 am from Nakuru and crossed into Tanzania where we stayed at the YWAM base in Arusha. That was an 8 hour day.

Thursday was a killer 16 hour day, driving 900 km from A

rusha to Iringa via Morogoro (still in Tanzania). The things that slowed us down the most in Tanzania were the numerous speed bumps, traffic police (we got pulled over 5 times) and having to slow down to 50 km/hr for every small trading center we passed through. We figured we were averaging between 50 - 60 km/hr all through Tanzania.

Thursday night we camped at River Valley safari camp along a river, and decided to sleep in and let the kids run around in the morning before getting back in the truck. So we climbed the hills around the campsite the next morning and took our time getting packed up. We left there around midday, and drove to Mbeya, arriving at Karibuni Center about 6 pm.

We left Mbeya this morning around 7:30 am, crossed the border into Zambia, and drove on to Shiwa Ngandu, more specifically Kapisha Hot Springs at Shiwa Safari camp. We arrived here about 4:30, set up camp, and have been enjoying the lovely hot water in the springs for the last 2 hours, and are now about to enjoy pizza and burgers.

Tomorrow, Day 6, we have a 9-hour journey to Lusaka, still in Zambia, where we’ll be staying at the YWAM base there. So far in Zambia we’ve hardly seen any speed bumps or traffic police, so we’re able to average about 80 km/hr.

All in all, it’s been a fantastic journey so far. The kids

have been doing absolutely amazing...hardly any whining or fighting. Yolam, John and I have been doing 2-3 hours shifts driving, and rotating around who plays with the kids and who rests a bit up front. Staying here and enjoying the hot springs has been a real treat, and makes the whole journey more like an adventure.

We so much appreciate your prayers, and ask you continue to do so! We’ve really seen God’s hand of protection, provision, and favor. We’ll keep you posted on the rest of the journey as often as possible!

Many blessings and lots of love from us all,

Vikki, John, Yolam, Aidan, Noah and Keziah

Monday, September 12, 2011

I feel like SHOUTING!

Psalm 66

1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.

3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing the praises of your name.”[a]

5 Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for mankind!
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him.
7 He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.

8 Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
10 For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you—
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

The faithfulness of God should not surprise me...that is His nature! Over and over and over again He does what He says He will do...not like fickle me who sometimes forgets to do something, or just doesn't feel like doing it, or whatever. No, God never fails to uphold His promises.

He told me way back in the beginning of the year not to worry about the plans for South Africa, that He had it all sorted out, it would all come together...the schooling, the housing, the visas, the journey down by road. So what did I do? I worried. Yes, I worried about the schooling and the housing and the visas...oh, especially those visas and all that wretched paperwork. And did any of my worrying do any good? Of course not. And one by one, the giants before me were laid to dust as God arranged first an initial place to stay, then a school that would take all 3 kids, then the visas.

Now we are about to head off on the journey down to Cape Town, possibly even leaving tomorrow, and when I went to bed last night we didn't have a place to stay for the first night on our 9 day journey. I spent hours on the web trying to find accommodation but to no avail. I don't know about you, but setting out on a massive long journey and having no idea where you're even staying the first night can be a little disconcerting.

This morning when I woke up I saw a text from a friend in Kenya with the phone number of a South African lady living in Nakuru who has offered to let us stay with her! Wow! How cool is that? I'm not sure if it will work out because Nakuru is 2 hours farther than where we were hoping to stop for the night, but it was encouraging to see that text anyway. It reminds me that God will keep providing for us, just as He always has, no matter how much I fret and worry.

That's why I feel like shouting...God has done so many great things for us. More than I can remember, more than I even know. And He will continue to, because that is His nature.

Not all of His great things seem great to us at the time. Note verses 10-12 of the above many people can praise God for testing and refining them? For "letting people ride over their heads"? This psalmist knew God's blessings come in many shapes and sizes and are all for the good of His beloved children.

It's hard to reconcile that sometimes, especially in the midst of the fire, but as I look back on my journey with the Lord, I see that the pruning and the refining are actually more life-changing and greater blessings to me than things like provision. Those hard times when He faithfully guides me through the darkness, holding my hand and comforting me, shaping and molding me, those are the times that bring me closer to Him and result in making me just a little bit more like the woman of God He created me to be.

So today I shout for joy to Daddy, my Rock, my Joy. May His name be praised in all the earth.

Cape Town...
here we come!!!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Check out the YWAM Arua/Yei promo vid!

We finally got the YWAM Arua/Yei promo vid uploaded...many thanks to Ashley, Carl and Jared for all their hard work in making it happen.

Let us know what you think!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New Wine reflections: the refining fire

It's the second to last day for us here at New Wine Newark, and it's been an amazing week. Leave alone the lost child, tornado, busted water mains, 3 cut fingers in 3 separate Wrights and deflating air mattresses...even without all those things it's been an adventurous week.

I've been hugely blessed by the challenging, in your face, not-so sweet talks of Simon Guillebaud, the main speaker of the week. The title of his series is "Back to basics: the gospel call." He started out with the Gospel Call to Authenticity, and basically said, "Look, we're in a war, life is no picnic, let's not pretend following Jesus is all sweetness and light. Life is hard, parts of it suck immensely, and the reality is that people need to hear an authentic gospel message that in this world we will have trouble, but we must take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world."

I loved the straight-shooting of Simon's talk, and some of his quotes were seriously thought-provoking:
We're immortal until God calls us home.

Until you know that life is war you cannot know what prayer is for.

The second day Simon talked about the Gospel Call to Adventure and encouraged us to take risks for God. He quoted Hudson Taylor who wrote,

"Unless there is an element of risk in our faith journey,
then there is no need for faith."

Simon said:

"We cannot settle for bumper stickers and slogans
when God is calling us to scars and stories."

No one really wants scars because that implies a wounding and pain, and I think most of us would rather dodge pain, where possible. But something Simon said today really made me think.

He was talking about the Gospel Call to Abandonment, and being living sacrifices for the Lord. He exhorted us to resist being conformed to the world, but instead to embrace the transformation of God to become more like Him. Although I wish it were different, I believe through my own experience that God's transformational work comes through those refining fire periods when life is excruciating and we can hardly bear the pressure.

Simon told a story of a group of ladies who were studying the refining fire process in Malachi 3:2-4 where it says:

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?
For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap.
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver;
he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.
Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,
and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord,
as in days gone by, as in former years.

So one of the ladies studying this wanted to see for herself what the refining process truly looked like, so she went to a silversmith and asked if she could watch. And the silversmith said, "Sure, feel free."

So the lady watched the silversmith do his work, and she asked him, "Do you have to sit and watch the silver while it is in the fire?"

And the smithy said, "Yes, I have to watch it intently because as soon as it is done, I must take it out immediately so the refining process doesn't go on one little bit longer, otherwise the silver will be damaged. So I don't take my eyes off of it."

And as the woman was leaving, the smithy called out, "Oh, there's one more thing I forgot to tell you. I know the process is complete when I can see the reflection of my image in the silver."

So I'm sitting here thinking, "What an amazing God. What a loving Father! He sits with us through those fires, those times of trials, those heart-breaking seasons, and He waits and He watches and He poises, ready to grab us out exactly on time. Not too soon, else we won't be finished. Not too late, else we be damaged. But right at the perfect time when He is able to look into our spirits and see His own shining out at Him.

I hate those refining fire seasons, but I love the finished product, and I'm desperate to reflect my Daddy more and more, to be made more and more in His image. I know it's not just once or twice...for some of us it seems to be a long string of refining fires. But if that is what it takes to make me a person who can bring God an offering of righteousness that is acceptable to Him, like those of long ago, then I readily offer up my life as a living sacrifice to Him yet again.

Have your way in me, sweet Abba. Have your way.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two Kingdoms Collide

We just spent 3 days with family at Disney Land in California. The weather was perfect, the lines were pretty short, and we all had a blast.

We got to see Mickey

and Donald

and Minnie

and Goofy

even Mary Poppins and her beau

Kezi was in awe of Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)

and Snow White

and Cinderella

and Belle

Disneyland in California is often called "The Happiest Place on Earth" and the place "where all your dreams come true."

Disney World, in Florida, is also known as the "Magic Kingdom."

And they DO make it look magical and's easy to imagine life being perfect and all my dreams coming true in that fairytale world.

But God's been teaching me over the last year more about His kingdom and what that looks like here on earth. It's not picture perfect palaces and pretty princesses. It's not the amazing World of Color water spectacular or diverse unity in The Small World.

The Kingdom of God is real.

It's also contrary to the ways of the world, which makes living it out difficult, messy, painful. Take 'love your enemy as yourself' for instance. That's not 'happily ever after' in most people's books. Most of us want to condemn our enemies, avenge ourselves on them, or at least cut them out of our lives. Forgive them? Forget it.

Then there is 'do unto others as you would have done to you.' How many of us actually live like that? The tendency is 'me first, and if there's anything left, I might share with you, if I feel like it.'

I'm not judging anyone here...just observing life. I'm right in there, too...trying to bring God's Kingdom to come in my life, failing miserably, falling at the feet of Jesus once again and saying, "I can't do this without you. Would YOU bring your kingdom to come in my life. Would YOU let your will be done in me."

It's not about my best's all about God's grace, and me walking in faith knowing He can do it in and through me as I keep my eyes on Him and let Him be my shepherd.

I was thinking about the idea of Disney being the place 'where all your dreams come true.' It was the last day of our 3-day pass, and we were just about to get on the roller coaster for the last ride of the day, when I heard some commotion behind me. I looked back and saw John carrying Noah, both of them covered in blood, and Noah crying, "I'm dyyyyying, I'm gonna dieeeeee!"

Noah had tripped on the stairs and landed forehead first. Blood was pouring down his face. One of the ride attendants was spinning in circles going, "Okay, it's gonna be okay, alright, okay, what do I do, okay, it's gonna be okay." One of the others was a little more proactive and brought a stack of paper towels and some ice cold water, so after several cold compresses we were able to stop the bleeding and assess the damage. It turned out to be a pretty small cut, but you know how head wounds bleed.

They brought a nurse who cleaned it up a bit better, put a bandaid on and pronounced us good to go. Noah was allowed to go on the roller coaster since it was our last ride, and we managed to get home without further mishap.

My point is, it wasn't our dream to have our little boy crack his head open and bleed all over the place on the last ride. It wasn't the Grand Finale we had in mind. And there's no guarantee that anyone anywhere can make all our dreams come true.

But when we live in the Kingdom of God here on earth, letting Him be King in our lives, and letting His dreams become our dreams, then it IS possible to see our dreams come true. The plans of God will never be thwarted.

May He give us the grace to let Him put His dreams in our hearts, and give us the faith to trust Him to make them come true. And may we all see the Kingdom of God coming more and more in our lives.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wilderness lessons: 3 – Blessedness of Spiritual Poverty

As I experienced the brokenness of God
, and came face to face with the ugliness of my heart in His “holiness mirror,” (see lesson 2), I gained a deeper understanding of the term “poverty of spirit.”

Jesus said,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
(Matt 5:3)

Jesus had just been moving throughout Galilee, teaching and preaching The Gospel…the good news…”the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”…and healing the sick, and now He sits down to teach His disciples just what that Kingdom of Heaven is all about, and His first recorded words are this:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Darrell Johnson says that poverty of spirit is the first mark of a “gospelized” person because it shows we have truly encountered Jesus. “When we encounter Jesus as He really is, we automatically see ourselves as we really are…woefully falling short of who He created us to be.”

This realization was incredibly painful to me, as it can only be. I had thought far too highly of myself, until God showed me the true colors of my heart. Then I went into a tailspin, agonizing over the junk I saw in myself, and wondering how on earth I was ever going to become like Jesus with all this rubbish in me.

Brennan Manning wrote, “The poor in spirit are like survivors of a shipwreck. Out at sea, all the things they used to rely on no longer matter. All that matters is this passing plank to which they reach out with the desperation of the drowning. Adrift on an angry sea, the shipwrecked never ask what they did to merit the plank…they simply receive the plank like a gift knowing there was absolutely nothing they did to deserve it.”

The plank…the cross. When I saw the true nature of my heart, I had to accept that there was nothing in me that merited the cross, and still nothing that deserves God’s daily grace over my life.

“Poor” in the Greek translation used for this beatitude is ptochoi which means abject poverty, or destitution. Standing before God, the poor in spirit know that they bring nothing in their hands that God needs and nothing in their hearts that compels God to accept them. They bring their poverty, hoping for sustenance. Their ptochoi –– poverty of spirit –– has broken them, making them fertile soil to receive God's blessing.

I came face to face with my destitution.

Watchman Nee
describes this process as the discipline of the Holy Spirit and says it is the greatest means of grace. When all kinds of problems and all sorts of people are pressing in from all directions, God is at work trying to break the things to which we are bound, that quench His Spirit and hinder Him from working in and through us.

Nee says, “The supply of the Word, the grace of prayer, the fellowship of the believers – none of these can substitute for the discipline of the Holy Spirit. This is because you need not only to be built up; you need also to be destroyed, to be delivered of all the many things in your life that cannot be brought over into eternity.”

The discipline of the Holy Spirit…the greatest means of grace. And now we understand, as Johnson pointed out, the heart behind the famous lyrics of Amazing Grace:

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear”…because grace first helps us see how wretched we are apart from grace. Yes...the holiness mirror. God’s grace showed me what I am really like apart from His grace.

Yet, in His amazing love, He doesn’t leave us there…”twas grace my fears relieved.” God shows us the poverty of our spirits and says, “Those who recognize that apart from me they can do nothing are the very ones to whom I will give the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Johnson says
the poor in spirit die to self-sufficiency and self-saviorship, but since self-sufficiency and self-saviorship are illusions, this death is a birth. The poor in spirit open up their empty hands in gratitude, and God gives them the Kingdom.

I love that Jesus
starts His teaching with this first be like the "kingdomized" people of God that He describes in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is only possible when we have reached that place of destitution. We finally give up leaning on our own understanding, trusting in our strengths and behaving as if we have a better plan than God. We finally say, "Let Your will be done, let Your kingdom come, in my life, and on this earth, just as it is in Heaven."

May God’s grace
enable me to walk in that place of recognizing my desperate need for Him, today and always, so that His Kingdom may fully come in my life, and He may reign in everything I do and say.

There is none like Him, and He is worthy of my life laid down.

(Highly recommended resources:
Darrell Johnson, “Living in Sync: Studies on the Sermon on the Mount”, Regent College audio series,
Watchman Nee, “Release of the Spirit”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wilderness Lessons: 2 - Brokenness

The distilled essence of brokenness is simply this…

apart from God I can do nothing
(John 15:5).

Nothing of any lasting value. Nothing that will go through the test of fire and survive (1 Cor 3:13-14).

In my own strength, with my own wisdom, I am simply building castles on the sand. One minor storm washes them away.

Brokenness is the place where I realize all my efforts without Christ are futile. My ‘great intellect’, which I once prized and believed was somehow better than many others (this idea highlighted by years of winning contests, receiving scholarships, etc.), really IS foolishness in the Kingdom of God.

Towards the end of last year, God led me down a path towards this revelation, but instead of seeing it for what it was, I strove harder, pushed myself more, gritted my teeth and will-powered my way through, refusing to ‘give up’, refusing to concede defeat. Sheer stubbornness, that was.

But my strength gave out, my emotions capsized, my mask of capability melted into streams of tears running unchecked and unexplained. I was finished.

And then God showed me the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen…He showed me my heart apart from Him. It was as if He lifted my covering of grace and held a mirror to my face and let me see the depth of depravity in my soul. No love, hard heart, selfish, hateful, vengeful, bitter, critical…utterly petrifying.

I found a description of this experience in R. Loren Sandford’s Renewal for the Wounded Warrior. He called it the ‘holiness mirror’ and, referring to St. John of the Cross’ ‘dark night of the soul’ said:

“The dark night of the soul will expose everything about you as defective. You will appear stripped of every virtue. The dark night enables a complete and accurate assessment of your own total depravity that sharply accents the depth and magnitude of God’s grace to cover it.”

Oh, so that was what that was all about. Well, scary as it was, I felt relief that God had a purpose in showing me the nastiness of my heart…brokenness.

“The dark night of the soul brings you to the cross where you cannot escape until you learn that you have nothing in yourself and that He has it all. The dark night burns away the flesh until you know that only the Spirit makes you live."

Until that point, you can do little more than hold your heart open to the searingly bright light of His presence and choose to endure the pain and brokenness his purity creates in your flesh. When you know your condition and understand God’s grace in relation to it, nothing remains to be threatened. You can fully rest in Him only when you have despaired of yourself.”

Watchman Nee said, “Anyone who serves God will discover sooner or later that the greatest hindrance to his work is not others, but himself. He will discover that his outward man and his inward man are not in harmony…his outward man is unable to submit to the spirit’s control, thus rendering him incapable of obeying God’s highest commands.”

There is only one process that can enable man to be useful before God: brokenness.

But going through this process isn’t easy. At first, the person being led into brokenness doesn’t know what’s happening; friends and family struggle to know how best to respond.

Sandford explained:

“Profound loneliness fills the dark night. No one understands. No one hears. Well-intentioned fools give shallow advice based on hurtful misunderstanding and shallow theology. To avoid the sting of their misguided wisdom, you begin to hide from people. Friendships gradually erode. In the face of their own powerlessness to help, people flee.”

Alone, misunderstood, avoided…finally I got a little piece of understanding about what it means to share in the suffering of Christ. Just a little, tiny piece.

Sandford says:

These people have been driven into the wilderness while everyone else was having fun. They have worked through a personal depth of sharing in the cross of Christ and His resurrection, becoming more one with Jesus both in His death and in His life than they had ever before understood or experienced.”

Madame Guyon wrote, “The true land of promise always lies beyond a vast wasteland.” In this wasteland of loneliness and confusion, God does the purifying work of brokenness.

Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it’s scary. But without this process, our spirit will not fully yield to the Spirit of God within us. We will not produce the fruit of righteousness we so crave. We will always be doing what we don’t want to do, and not doing what we want to do.

Watchman Nee says, “It is vital that we be broken by the Lord. It is not that the life of the Lord cannot cover the earth, but rather that His life is imprisoned by us. It is not that the Lord cannot bless the Church, but that the Lord’s life is so confined within us that there is no flowing forth. If the outward man remains unbroken, we can never be a blessing to His Church, and we cannot expect the Word to be blessed by God through us.”

I imagine this is not a popular concept. Most people don’t pray to be broken…actually, we pray quite the opposite. Like the prayer of Jabez. We don’t like pain. And brokenness necessarily involves pain…that’s just a fact.

But don’t forget the Promised Land waiting on the other side of that pain. We must lose our life in order to save it.

If we truly hunger and thirst for righteousness; if we seriously seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, the only way for His Kingdom to fully come in our lives is to allow Him to break down the things in us that are contrary to His kingdom.

Those who retreat from the refining fire will wander in the wilderness, griping and complaining and wishing they were back in slavery.

Those who surrender to the process and allow God’s gentle hand to lead them through this wilderness will rejoice in the joy and abundance of the Promised Land. They will be set free from striving, competing, and manipulating, and will be a tool in the hand of God, set apart and useful for noble purposes.

May God give us the grace to trust His tender hands.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wilderness Lessons: 1 - What it means to care

Towards the end of last year, I lost my vision.

Not physically, but spiritually.

I felt no love towards anyone. I didn’t really care anymore. I had reached the bottom of whatever well of compassion there was in me, and nothing came in to fill it back up.

I was just empty and dry.

And then I became angry. I don’t know why exactly, but everything made me mad. Or irritated me. And I couldn’t be bothered to work up the patience and tolerance to deal with people or problems.

I was finished.

People call it a wilderness season, a time in the desert, a mid-life crisis…whatever the name, the symptoms are the same…depression, doubt, angst, exhaustion, grief.

I cried easily for no particular reason...rather embarrassing, really.

The only possible way forward was to withdraw…take time out with God…

go into solitude.

So I pulled out
of the leadership team, out of ministry, even out of team meetings. The only commitment I held onto was being a mom and a wife, but every other thing I put on the back burner for about 2 months.

One of the things I am most grateful for during that time was the nearness of God…I never felt like He wasn’t there. He didn’t go quiet on me. Rather, He was the One who called me to ‘go up the mountain’ and spend time just with Him.

I learned many things during that time…God was extremely faithful to teach me His truths on multiple levels. Some of them I will share on this blog in the days/weeks to come,

others are for Him and I alone.

But one of the first things I learned about was ‘caring’. Our society is programmed to cure, not to care. We want quick fixes. We want people to try this or try that to get over their depression, be free of their anger, come out of their slump. We find it hard to wade through pits of despair with people…we just want them to pull up their socks and get on with it.

And yet, sometimes God has a purpose for those pits that won’t be realized unless the pit-dweller remains there for a season, embraces the darkness and confusion and pain, and allows God to minister to her in that place. There is a refining process that can take place in the pit if we will surrender ourselves to the Lord, trust Him to do what He needs to do, and allow Him to bring us out of the pit in His perfect timing. It’s a tricky balance between wallowing when God says, “Come out,” and climbing out before His sanctifying work is done.

And the key lesson
I learned about ‘caring’ as it relates to 'the pit', is that the people who really care are the ones who climb into the pit with you and just sit there, holding your hand, assuring you with their presence but refraining from fixing it all and trying to pull you out. I just read a passage from Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude which summed it up best:

“…when we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief or bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness,

that is the friend who cares.”

This pic says: "To be with you is all I can do."

I am blessed to have friends who, although having their own challenges in life, willingly agreed to walk through this wilderness with me, to read my rantings and ravings, my musings and doubts, my questions and ponderings. They held me up with their prayers, they didn’t shy away from the dark places I wandered, they didn’t judge or criticize the ugliness of my heart as I laid it all out there. They were safe, faithful, present. They were the friends who cared.

I’ve learned from this walk in the wilderness what those suffering in the dark places of their souls need most…a caring friend to share in the fellowship of suffering with them. Not one of Job’s unhelpful advisors, not abandonment… just the simple presence of a fellow sojourner who acknowledges her own inadequacy to fix the problem, but trusts God’s unfailing love and is ready to stick with her aching friend through the long haul as God works out His good purposes in her life. After all, God's Word says that sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. However long that night is, the friends that are with us in the darkness will celebrate with us that much more in the joyful morning.


It’s really rather simple when you experience it.

And now having experienced it, may God grant me the grace to extend that same level of care to whichever hurting friend may need it next.